Tuesday, June 17, 2008

The Inside Out Church & Economics of Evangelism; the Why of Planting

Last weekend I had a fun time at the Christian Universalist Association celebration in Oklahoma City, first Friday night as part of the Restoration Nation father's day annual celebration, and preaching by Carlton Pearson of New Dimensions in Tulsa, which is now worshipping at All Souls Unitarian Church after a few years of worshipping at Trinity Episcopal after losing members and its building when it was megachurch Higher Dimensions. And Then Saturday at the UCC Church of the Open Arms for the CUA celebration. I was invited to talk about church planting, especially the incarnational organic way, as a way of growth. The CUA is interested in church planting in a variety of ways including house churches, and it is also starting moves toward its own ordination process as part of leadership development that could be helpful in starting such church plants.

The folks at the CUA seemed a bit worried that their first celebration wasn't attended by more people; some 30 for their part of the weekend event it seemed, but it was an ecumenical event and good sharing on Christian Universalism which is more widespread of course than such numbers would indicate. People were talking about higher gas prices and the economy for low turnout and that is always a factor. But then I think there is also the old issue of universalism and committment to institutions (they said a lot of folks also weren't too crazy about hooking up with another organization if it is interested in furthering its organization and assets, especially many universalists in the more charismatic side of the movement who are spirit-led and tend to be wary of institutions.) There's all of that I think too; another way UU and pentecostalists are brothers and sisters of the Third Person of the Holy Trinity :).

I was thinking that the problem is likely that they didnt have more in attendance but that they weren't small enough; kicking movements off these days I think is more a matter of retreats than revivals, more a matter of going deep in relationships with a tribe of folks; the same kind of dynamic that will kick off church planting movements. More small group sharing than large scale proclamation. But the CUA is young and its right that an ecumenical movement is bubbling up all around its concerns; the very ecumenical nature of it might be an ironic stumbling block to people taking on another organization; they are already sensing a coming out inside their own circles and tribes and don't need another.

My thoughts anyway coming from an admittedly church planting perspective.

What I was struck with in preparing for my presentation was that instead of spending so much time on how people are doing things organic and incarnational these days, and what we are up to here in Turley, OK, as I have done in different ways since I started doing workshops back in the early 90s on this, is that I could have spent much more productive time focusing our attention on the why of church planting movements. Especially with universalists. You have to counter from others, and know deeply within your own communities, why it is vital for universalist salvation believers to be involved in planting. After all, the argument goes, why plant a church, why try to attract people to a church, if you are going to see them all in heaven anyway one of these days. What is it that would require me to make such a sacrifice, to make such a committment, if the reward for that committment is no more of a payoff than if I don't make such a sacrifice and committment. If you want more of this economic basis of religious committment, of course, spend time with the wonderful books, provocative books, by Rodney Stark, now of Baylor.

I often talk about culture trumping theology; well, marketplace culture might trump it all.
But as I told them this last weekend when I did get into that most important why of planting such churches, regardless of the multiple ways of how, is that we need to plant such churches, such God communities, precisely to counter that marketplace quid pro quo kind of spirituality. Just because it is reality doesn't make it true spiritually. That kind of worldview on religious committment is precisely what the church, that body of people making Jesus visible in the world, is called to counteract against by creating communities of the opposite value, encouraging disciples to be faithful for a different reason, and to know the benefits of that counterliving are rich indeed. We need to create more and different churches of universalist salvation because it should be a part of our spiritual discipline, our walk with Jesus, to reflect and embody Jesus' values which were communal, missional, getting outside of one's self and acting radically other than the Empire way of acting and thinking and relating. We need to plant such churches, such missions, because we do so from the deepest part of our being in response to the gifts of love the God of Love has given to us, so that this God of Love and not the God of Fear is the one that is made visible in the world. We plant them because we aren't complete and whole if we don't in our spiritual life, for the shape of love is a pouring out into another, the same way God incarnates the world. As Paul Ricouer says, its the Absolute Absolving.

The early church, all those universalists like Paul, knew that the spread of their churches was a core religious necessity because it was the way they did what they were called to do, to participate in Christ, in growing the body of Christ, as Christ grows them. It is the ultimate way of relating to those who are unlike us, which is the way of Jesus. We do it because if we don't there will be more hell on earth, and for that, somehow someway, we will be held accountable.

And remember this all leads to the next understanding that this doesn't mean that what we plant will have to look and be and act like what we understand church to be now, especially if we think of it in those terms as permanent building, set name, paid preacher and staff, set worship time, etc. etc If we think of it in those terms then the chasm that opens up before us between our resources and reality will paralyze us. But if we look with other eyes and other perspectives, then it becomes doable, and is catching. Our God wouldn't have it any other way; if it is done in such a way it seems to engender burnout or despair, then you know it isn't what God is seeking.

Well, thats a few notes I remember making from the short why part of the conversation. Next I will post more on the how. But that stuff, with some changes, you have heard from me before. But it will be another fresher look at the Inside Out Church.

Type rest of the post here